It’s been a year since the Olympus E-PL5 showed up at my door, and I want to give a report.
The E-PL5 is the first nice camera I’ve ever owned. A year later, as I look back at how often I’ve used the camera, the pictures I’ve taken with it, and what my opinion is of the camera itself, the short answer is that I still use it regularly and often, and I’m still very happy with it.
It was the fall of 2012 that I began researching mirrorless cameras to find a setup I could easily take with me anywhere I went, and which cost under $1,000 (for the body and a nice prime lens). I wanted the camera to have an Auto mode so I could just point and shoot if I needed to (I still am a beginning photographer, and don’t always know which manual adjustments to make to get the exposure right). I also wanted an Auto mode so I could hand the camera over to a family member to let them point and shoot with. But it also needed to have good manual modes so I could learn and grow into the manual controls as I learned more about the technical details of photography.
Here is the article I wrote summarizing the 50+ hours of research I did on Mirrorless cameras and why the E-PL5 was my pick. Though some of the models mentioned in that article have been updated, all my reasoning and logic still stands.
And here is my official review of the camera, which I wrote after using the camera for about 6 months.
As I mentioned in my official review, it was the iPhone that actually led me to getting a better camera. I was taking more and more and more pictures, but wasn’t doing much with them other than keeping them on my iPhone. A year later, I still couldn’t be happier about my decision to get a nice camera and I am still very happy with the camera I chose.
I’ve had and used the E-PL5 through Thanksgiving 2012, Christmas, my son, Noah’s, first birthday, a few trips to Colorado, a trip to San Francisco, a camping trip, a trip to New York, the birth of my second son, Giovanni, and countless other weekend and weekday excursions.
Last year we bought several new photo frames to put around the house. And every couple of months I order a few new 8×10 photos printed from Shutterfly and we swap out all the pictures in the house. It’s inexpensive1 and it’s so wonderful to have high-quality photos of our kids and family.2
Something we did last year, and which we’ll do again this Christmas, was get a few of Apple’s iPhoto photo books. Photo books make great Christmas presents to parents and grandparents. Last year’s book was half photos from my iPhone covering January through October, and then half photos from my E-PL5 covering November and early December. This year the photo book will probably be 90-percent (or more) E-PL5 photos.
I still consider the E-PL5 to be one of the best-kept secrets in the mirrorless camera landscape. For the body only, it’s very reasonably priced. And it’s fast, has great battery life, works with all the micro-four thirds lenses, is well built, has 4-axis in-body image stabilization, and has the same sensor found inside the critically acclaimed Olympus E-M5. It’s a beast and it won’t break the bank.
On Twitter I was asked if a better camera in this space has come along. For the same price as the E-PL5, no, I don’t think so.
Of course, since I got my E-PL5 a year ago, the mirrorless camera landscape has improved quite a bit. There’s now the Fuji x100s and X-E2, the Olympus E-P5, and the new Olympus E-M1 (to name a few). These are all really great, but they’re also all more expensive than the E-PL5.
You can get the E-PL5 body and a very nice prime lens for about $800-$900 (depending on the lens you pick). The E-P5 is $900 for the body alone; the Fuji x100s is $1,300 and comes with a great lens (that cannot be swapped out), but it is not a beginner’s camera.
In my opinion, someone looking to get a great camera and a great lens (where by “great lens” I mean “a prime lens” — not the kit zoom lens), can’t go wrong with the E-PL5. It’s compact, it’s easy enough to use that a beginner could pick it up and take decent shots with it (no comment about technique), and it has most of the same internal components (same sensor, similar IBIS) found in Olympus’ top-of-the line cameras, the E-M1 and the E-P5.
Here are answers to a few other questions I got from folks on Twitter:
What’s the best first lens? The Panasonic 20mm f/1.7. It’s one of the less expensive among the good prime lens selection; it’s a pancake lens, so it takes up very little space; it takes wonderful photographs; and the 20mm focal length (which is the 40mm equivalent on a full-frame camera) is in the sweet spot range for all manner of photos. So, if you don’t know which lens to get, get the Panasonic 20/1.7.
What is your most-used lens? Just the one I have: the panasonic 20/1.7. It’s a fantastic lens for the price and size. My favorite lens of all the ones I have used is the Pany 25/1.4, but I like the size of the 20/1.7 pancake too much. And, since the 20mm and the 25mm are so close in focal length, it seems silly to keep them both.
Have you been tempted by any other cameras? Yes; the E-P5. It has all that’s awesome about the E-PL5, but in a nicer body with more manual controls (without giving up automatic modes), and with an even better sensor and IBIS. However, the E-P5 is several hundred dollars more expensive, and I honestly don’t know if that increase in price is worth it for me at my current skill and usage levels.
How do you travel with it? For outings, I use my DSPTCH strap. As for a case, I don’t have one yet because I haven’t yet found one I like (well, the Hard Graft camera bag looks gorgeous, but I’d rather buy a lens).
What do you wish was different? What annoys you about the camera? The same thing that I’m tempted by with the E-P5: I wish the E-PL5 had better manual dials. You can set it in Aperture or Shutter priority modes, but you have to use the menu dial to quickly change the aperture / exposure / shutter settings. This can be a bit awkward or inaccurate. But… It doesn’t bother me so much to dislike the camera, and like I mentioned above, I’m not sure it’s worth the cost for me to buy a more expensive camera right now. I’ll probably keep the E-PL5 for a few more years and invest my money in lenses instead of upgrading my camera body.
Has your frequency of use decreased since you first got the camera? Yes and no. I’m not forcing myself to take it out like I did when I first got it. But I still use it often around the house and at family events, trips, and other things. Since the first day of owning it I have always felt silly taking it out and using it. But, looking back, I wish I would get out with the camera more often.
What about ergonomics? The camera feels great. It’s very light, it has incredible build quality, and it’s very easy to hold with one hand. The flip-out view screen makes it easy to take photos at all sorts of angles.
Auto-focus and other settings? The E-PL5 with my Panasonic 20mm lens does hunt a fair bit in super low light, but in my understanding it’s no better or worse than most other cameras like this. When I was renting the Olympus 45/1.8 lens, the auto-focus was a bit quicker, but not significantly so.
I mostly shoot in Aperture Priority mode, but when I’m having trouble I’ll switch to Auto and the camera does a great job at deciding what sorts of settings I want.
To what degree does the camera’s physical size impact when/where you use it. How often have you wished you had it but didn’t? The size of the camera is fantastic. It’s small enough to fit in my winter coat pocket or my small laptop bag without bothering me. It’s also light enough that when I’m wearing it with the shoulder strap I can have it on for hours and never consider its weight.
There are often times I wish I had taken it somewhere but didn’t. This, however, has everything to do with me not being in the discipline of taking the camera and using it. It has almost nothing to do with the size of the camera.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned about photography since getting this camera? That I regret 100% of the shots I don’t take. Too cliche? Okay, fine. But it’s true. Like I said above regarding frequency of use, I want to get out with the camera more often.
What is your usage of the E-PL5 compared to your iPhone camera? I certainly use my iPhone more often than the E-PL5 just because of the fact that my iPhone is with me all the time. But I don’t often take “great photos” with my iPhone. Usually they are cool snapshots that I will then share on Instagram, email to friends and family, or put into Day One. And that’s exactly why I got the E-PL5. I didn’t want to all-out replace my iPhone, but I wanted something I could use to take much, much better photos when it mattered most.
What are your favorite pictures taken with the E-PL5? This one is probably my most favorite:
These are also favorites:
You can see more of the photos I’ve taken on my Flickr page.
* * *
So. If you’re in the market for an awesome and pocketable camera, I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is, there are a lot of really great options. The bad news is, there are a lot of really great options. Good luck!
- 8×10 prints are normally 3.99 each, but Shutterfly seems to have sales all the time to get things for 40-percent off or more. I’ve also heard great things about WHCC’s pricing and quality, but haven’t yet used them myself. ↵
- I’ve also been using the camera to take “fancy” hero images for use on this site and on The Sweet Setup. ↵
Leading up to the launch of The Sweet Setup, we were wrangling about 20 active documents. I was working with half-a-dozen different authors on their app reviews along with writing several reviews and blog posts of my own, and Jeff Abbott was editing everything.
To manage all of these documents we use Editorially.
It’s awesome. Here’s why.
Markdown support: All the writers we work with prefer to write in Markdown. I prefer markdown. And, well, Editorially supports markdown syntax highlighting in the browser. It also displays images inline. When you’re done writing you can export your writing as an html, markdown, plain text, Latex, rich text, MS Word, or ePub file. Wow.
Collaboration: invite people to join the document as read-only privileges or with editing privileges. You can highlight words and passages to make notes about, and you can comment on the document in general.
Track changes and version control: Editorially auto-saves as your working on a document, so if your browser crashes you don’t lose your work. It also keeps all the versions of a document, and allows you to compare the changes of one version with another.
Document status: Documents start as “Draft”, and as you progressively work on them you can change their status to “Reviewing”, “Revising”, “Copyediting”, and “Final”.
These states worked perfectly with our workflow, and followed perfectly the progression of our articles from the initial submission by a contributor, my reviewing of it, the author’s revising of it, and then Jeff’s editing of it. When visiting my Editorially dashboard I could see instantly what the state of each document was, and knew which ones I needed to attend to myself.
Dropbox support: you can link Editorially to a folder in your Dropbox and then send an article to that folder. This is Editorially’s answer to “archiving” since there is nowhere to move documents that are in their final state and which have been published and that you no longer need to keep on your dashboard. This is how I archive all of our published articles, and it works very well.
Pasting into a document: Copy rich or formatted text from one place and when you paste it into Editorially it will format in Markdown. Even images. Amazing.
iPad and iPhone friendly: Editorially is a web app only with no native apps. However, it has a responsive design that works great in Safari on the iPad and iPhone. It can be a bit clunky if you’re making lots and lots of notes and annotations, and I wouldn’t want to spending hours a day, every day, working in Editorially on my iPad. But I edited several documents from my iPhone and iPad with no trouble.
Our Editorially Workflow
Being editor-in-chief, I was reaching out to potential writers asking them if they’d like to do an article for the site. Once they submitted their draft to me I would paste it into Editorially and read through it.
Because Editorially lets me make highlight words and passages, it was easy to make comments about what I felt were good, what needed improvement, and what was missing altogether. I would also make general comments on the document itself such as, “All done. Your turn.”
If I hadn’t already, I would then invite the author to join the document so they could see all my comments and edits, and then they make any changes and leave comments of their own.
Some articles were done after just one pass. Others took several rounds of back and forth work to get it to a place where we were completely happy with it.
Once the article reached the point where the author and I were happy with it, then I would invite Jeff to join. (Jeff is the editor for The sweet Setup.) He would then read through the article for the first time, making sure it had a good flow, made sense, covered all the bases, and was free from typos and other grammatical errors.
When Jeff was done, he’d set the article’s status to “Final”. I would then export the markdown out of Editorially and paste it into our CMS. Editorially also supports publishing to WordPress, but I don’t use this feature — we have quite a few custom fields and other metadata tables set up in our WordPress install that hinder us from just publishing straight to the site from Editorially.
Technically, Editorially is still in beta. There are a few bugs here and there (for example, the dashboard doesn’t remember my preference for displaying documents in a grid format or a list) and there are some other features I’d love to see added (such as the ability to transfer ownership of a document from one user to another, or an “inbox” that listed all the recent activity on all my documents). But these are small issues, and Editorially has proven to be an invaluable tool for us.
We are using it to get a lot of work done without losing our minds. I can’t imagine what our workflow would look like without Editorially.
Today is the day. It’s here. The Sweet Setup has launched.
There are three groups of people I want to thank:
All the contributing authors who’ve been working with me over the past few months to research, test, compare, and pick a “best” app: Federico Viticci, Ben Brooks, Dr. Drang, Bradley Chambers, Stephen Hackett, and John Moltz. As well as Jeff Abbott who edits every word on the site.
There is much more to say about the site, but right now I’m busy fixing launch-day typos and broken links. I hope you’re able to take some time to check out the site and read some of our fantastic and considered articles. If you’re not sure where to start, take the Dime Tour.
These two new iPads are marvels.
It’s already amazing that there exists gadgets made of aluminum and glass which weigh less than a pound and have screens that rival the resolution of a printed magazine. Now add to that the fact these devices have touch screens so true-to-life and so responsive that it feels as if you’re literally manipulating the pixels with your fingers.
And it doesn’t end there.
Pacing around the coffee table in my office, thinking about the new iPads while contemplating the big picture of things like personal computers that fit in our pockets and purses, it’s easy to get swept away in just what an incredible day and age we live in.
These devices are also connected to the world wide web — allowing me to communicate with friends, family, members, and strangers alike. A photo I took of my son using my phone has magically appeared on my iPad, and I can email it to my parents with ease; I can write words and publish them to a place where anyone in the world can come to read; I can download music and books; and so, so much more.
But then, returning to Earth, what are the brass tacks here? I’ve been sending emails for over half my life; I’ve never owned a cell phone that couldn’t send a text message; I’ve been making my living publishing to the web for nearly three years; and this isn’t my first iPad.
But yet, in a way, this is my first iPad.
The iPad Air is, hands down, the most amazing iPad I’ve ever owned. And I’ve owned several.
Keeping with tradition, I bought the iPad Air on launch day, too. Thirteen days later I can say, unequivocally, that it is the greatest iPad ever. The change in size and weight and speed when compared to the iPad 3 is something that must be experienced and not read about. Trying to describe the difference in usability between the iPad Air and its predecessors is an exercise which puts my wordsmithing skills to the test.
My iPads have always received quite a bit of use from me. Even from the very first generation iPad, I have toted these things with me to meetings, coffee shops, vacations to the Rocky Mountains, “business” trips to WWDC, my living room, and everywhere in between.
Moreover, I am quite comfortable using the iPad as my “laptop”. My work is such that I’m fortunate enough to be able to do pretty much everything I need from the iPad. Nearly all of my daily tasks and routines related to work or play are things I can do on iOS.
Every design and engineering progression with the iPad has been a nice, incremental, and welcomed step. Thinner and lighter, then Retina, then faster. But the iPad Air is a leap and not a step. It feels impossibly thin and impossibly light while also being extremely fast and responsive. It is quintessential.
And then, yesterday, the iPad mini with Retina display appeared. And, well, it is also the best iPad I’ve ever owned.
Here is a device that will fit inside my wife’s purse or the pocket of my peacoat. And it’s ideal for all the most common personal computing tasks of doing email, surfing the Internet, and checking Facebook and Twitter. And we all know the iPad can do so much more — there’s no reason why the iPad mini couldn’t be someone’s only computer.
And that fascinates me. Who knew that one day our uncompromising personal computers would cost a few hundred dollars and would comfortably fit inside a woman’s purse?
I’ve been using the Retina mini for just a day now, but I am confident that I could use it for all the tasks which I’ve been using my full-sized iPad for all these years. The question is not about the capabilities of the mini; the question is about my own preferences. And, at the moment, I don’t have an answer.
It’s different than deciding between an 11- or 13-inch MacBook Air, or between a 13- or 15-inch MacBook Pro. For laptops you mostly use them while they are placed on top of a desk or table (or perhaps your lap) while you sit in front of them. You mostly pick which laptop you need based on your computing tasks and needs, size plays a role in terms of portability, but once the laptop is out and on the desk it mostly doesn’t matter what size it is (unless you’re sitting in coach).
But with the iPad Air and iPad mini, computing usage is not the only factor. There’s also a tangible, kinesthetic-centric factor at play here. Because the iPad is something you hold and touch while using.
Which is better: an iPad Air that has a bigger screen and which is thin and light enough? Or an iPad mini that is very thin and light and which has a screen that is big enough? I just don’t think you can pit these two devices against one another. They are not competing — they are two of a kind.
They are both great. Both favorites.
Over the next several weeks and months I plan to use both iPads for the same tasks. It’ll be interesting to see how the dust settles and if I’ll naturally be drawn more to the smaller device or the larger one, and why.
This is the year the iPad line has reached significant, noteworthy maturity. It’s worthy of a milestone.
The iPad Air is to the original iPad what the iPhone 4 was to the original iPhone.
The iPhone 4 was the model where all the foundational components — the screen, the hardware design, the camera, the processor — came together just right to make an iPhone without compromise.
The original iPhone compromised on a lot of things: it had a lousy camera and only worked on AT&T’s EDGE network.
The iPhone 3G and 3GS compromised on their hardware design — using a plastic casing to allow better cellular reception and battery life.
The iPhone 4 left those compromises behind while also upping the ante. It had a beautiful design of glass and steel while keeping the fast (3G) cellular data and good battery life. Additionally, the iPhone 4 added a significantly better camera and, of course, the introduction of the Retina display.
Similarly, I think the iPad Air is “finally” a full-sized iPad without compromises. It has a gorgeous display, excellent battery life, it’s powerful, and, of course, it’s very lightweight and easy to hold.
The iPad Air (and Retina iPad mini) mark the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next for the iPad line. And so, now that we’re here, where does the iPad lineup go next?
A year ago, when the iPad mini came out, I kept my full-sized iPad because of the retina screen. And it’s not like that was a sacrifice. I love the larger display on my full-sized iPad for writing and reading. The size and weight (which, come on, have never been that bad) have never bothered me. Sure, I can’t hold the iPad with one hand while lying down in bed, but I don’t do that anyway. For long-form reading I have a Kindle.
The question for me, today, on iPad Air Eve, is: could the iPad mini — which is cheaper, smaller, and lighter, with an even denser Retina than the iPad Air display — be just as good for how I use my iPad?
All those who got early review units of the iPad Air are talking about how thin and light it is. Naturally. That’s the hallmark feature for which it’s named. Some wrote in their review that they will be leaving their old iPad mini for the new iPad Air, while others are not getting an Air and holding out for the new iPad Mini with Retina screen.
When I travel, I like to leave my MacBook Air at home and take just my iPad. In part because when I travel (especially vacation) I like to avoid bringing work with me. Also, there are a few days a week when I will leave my home office to go work from a coffee shop or the local library. Most of the time I like to take just my iPad on these occasions as well.
There are myriad conveniences to working from an iPad. The insane battery life; the extreme portability; super-fast LTE that’s available just about anywhere (except the middle of Kansas, fyi, in case you too happen to find yourself driving on I-70 between Denver and Kansas City); and more.
Also, the iPad comes with its own “anti-distraction software” — iOS itself. On the iPad you can only wrangle one app at a time.
But lately, when traveling or going to a coffee shop, I’ve been taking my MacBook Air with me more often than not. When I went to WWDC in 2012 I took only my iPad, yet this year I took my MacBook Air along.
As water likes to flow downward I naturally gravitate towards working from my laptop.
I’m at my desk working from my clamshelled MacBook Air right now, and I have 9 active application windows in my view: MarsEdit, nvAlt, Safari, Mail, Pages, Byword, Messages, Rdio, and OmniFocus. My MacBook Air is packed to the rafters with Keyboard Maestro macros, TextExpander snippets, keyboard shortcuts, and other scripts. It can display many app windows at once, and is generally more efficient for most tasks.
There are, of course, advantages and disadvantages to iOS’s constraints just as there are advantages and disadvantages to the versatility of OS X. Each device and its operating system have their own ways of empowering creative work as well as hindering it.
It’s often easier for me to work from my MacBook Air and sometimes I flat out need to. But I want to and will continue to work from my iPad as often as possible.
Though I’m still not 100% confident that an iPad Air will be the best iPad for me now that the iPad mini has a Retina display, the alarm on my iPhone is set for tonight at 2:00 am local time. I’ll wake up, order my iPad through Apple’s Store app, choose in-store pickup (assuming it’s an option), and mosey down to my local Apple store some time tomorrow after I’ve had my coffee.
Then, in about a month from now, for the sake of science, I’ll get an iPad mini as well.1 I don’t want an iPad Air or an iPad mini specifically — I want the device that’s the most enjoyable and conducive to use for getting work done.
Perhaps it’s with the one that has a bigger screen that will prove to be thin and light enough. Or, maybe, the one that is thinner and lighter with a screen that proves to be big enough.
I don’t yet know how the pros and cons weigh against one another. But I do know that the iPad as a computer is the future. And the entire iOS and iDevice ecosystem is, to me, the most exciting and fascinating thing happening right now.
- Last year I had a very good feeling that this sort of dilemma would present itself, so I’ve been saving with the expectation of buying one of each so I could use and test them both. These are the sorts of sacrifices I’m willing to take for my job. ↵
The new Fantastical is the best calendar app on the iPhone. It was great before, but now, it’s, well, fantastic.
Let’s talk for a moment about friction, learning interfaces, and natural language parsing
I’ve always been a fan of Fantastical’s natural language parsing and it’s simple-yet-powerful design. When I say Fantastical is the best calendar app for the iPhone, I define “the best” as being the easiest to use (adding/editing events) and the easiest to read (checking schedule) for most people.
About a month ago I took a little poll on Twitter. It’s nothing scientifically conclusive, but it does provide some interesting data points to say the least. In the poll I asked people how many events they enter into their iPhone on a weekly basis.
Of 179 total responses:
- 73% enter 1 or fewer events per day (130 people)
- 21% enter an average of 2 events per day (38 people)
- 6% enter an average of 3 events per day (10)
- Less than 1% enter 4 or more events per day (1)
So, 94-percent of the total respondents use their iPhone’s calendar app 2 or fewer times per day to enter in a new event with most of those people actually using it just once or less per day.
Think about the situations you’re typically in when adding an event to your calendar using your iPhone. For me, I’m usually in the middle of a conversation with someone and we’ve just agreed upon our next meeting or a meal together. Or I’m in the lobby at my kids’ doctor’s office making their next checkup appointment, or I’m at my dentist making my next cleaning appointment. Etc.
In short, the times I’m using my iPhone to enter an event are times when I’m usually in the middle of something else. I want to add the event and get on with life.
The more we become familiar with a calendar app’s new-event interface, then the faster we can navigate it. However, as my Twitter poll hints, people entering in just one event or less per day is not much usage to learn an app’s interface.
I’ve been using my iPhone to enter calendar events since 2007, and the default new event entry sheet provided by iOS has always felt like an obstacle course. If most of us are entering one event or less per day on our iPhones, then are we ever really learning the event input interface of our calendar app?
That is why natural language parsing is so divine. Because what’s an “interface” we are all extremely familiar with? Natural language.
We say sentences like “I’m having lunch with Steve tomorrow” all the time. It’s called “natural language” for a reason — we say these sentences in our everyday conversations, emails, text messages, etc. It’s natural to us.
And so a calendar app that can understand our own natural language is one that we can use as infrequently as we want without suffering the consequences of not learning its input UI.
Fantastical has, by far and away, the best natural language input mechanics of any other calendar app on the iPhone. It is fast and smart at parsing just about any event- or reminder-based sentence, and it has easy-to-understand animations which let us know how the app is translating our words.
As Dr. Drang pointed out, Fantastical’s animations do more than dazzle:
The animations are providing instant feedback on how Fantastical is parsing your words and, more important, they’re teaching you Fantastical’s syntax.
What’s New in Fantastical 2?
In a sentence, it’s faster, it’s built and designed for iOS 7, it has Reminders integration, light and dark modes, and there’s a swell new week view if you flip your iPhone on its side.
Let’s dive in.
Landscape Mode’s Week View
Flip your phone into landscape mode and Fantastical shows you your week view with the time plotted on the calendar (not unlike Calendar shows you on the Mac).
I’m a fan of this view because it’s a great way to visualize what blocks of time I’m booked for during the day and what blocks of time are open.
Moreover, from this weekly view you can drag and move events very easily. You can adjust their start and end times. And if you tap and hold on an empty spot, you can create a new event (which also means, by the way, that Fantastical now supports the landscape keyboard for creating a new event or reminder).
Pulling down on the day ticker and/or the month view is how you transition between one or the other. This animated transition is smoother and faster in the new version of Fantastical.
Updated with a 64bit architecture, background updating, and dynamic text. New events and reminders you add via your Mac or iPad or any other app beyond Fantastical still will sync to Fantastical in the background.
You can add a reminder by typing “Remind me to…”, or you can manually tap the toggle on the new event creation window that will switch Fantastical between new calendar event and new reminder.
Custom keyboard row
If you’ve got an iPhone 5 or 5s, above the QWERTY row is a 5th row with numbers, a forward slash, and a colon to help enter in calendar data faster. In my time testing the app over the past several weeks this row has proven to be immensely helpful.
Auto-import your settings
Your Fantastical 1 settings auto-import into Fantastical 2.
This seems like a non-trivial thing, right? We’re used to updating our apps and having our settings persist through the update.
But with developers releasing new, iOS 7-only, paid updates to their apps, a paid update like this is actually like installing a new app. Of course your calendars sync right up, but your app-specific display settings — such as having weekends highlighted, if days with no events show up in the day ticker, etc.. — are imported from Fantastical 1 into Fantastical 2. It’s the sort of thing you’d only notice if it didn’t happen.
If you’re not satisfied with your current calendar app, Fantastical is just $3 on the App Store.
I’m posting today’s episode of Shawn Today here to make it available for everyone.
With Mavericks support for storing passwords and credit card info in Safari, combined with the iCloud keychain syncing of that info to our iOS devices, I wanted to share about how that impacts my favorite password manager, 1Password.
In short, I wanted to talk about why I still consider 1Password to be vitally important and useful.
On today’s podcast episode I share how I’ve been using the new iCloud keychain in both Mavericks and iOS, how I use 1Password, why the two make a good pair, and why 1Password is still important and useful.
Direct download link. (09:01)
Note: In the show is that I didn’t know if you could look up individual passwords from within iOS (to do things like fill in the UN/PW information for an app). It turns out you can look up password information if you go to the Settings app → Safari → Passwords & AutoFill → Saved Passwords. (You can also find your Saved Credit Card info here as well.)
Long have I been a fan of Mark Jardine’s heavy-handed design aesthetic. The dark grey industrial materials, the gradients, noise textures, and the playful graphics and icons. These design elements have been inextricably tied to the signature and brand of the Tapbots app lineup.
Today, that all changes.
The new Tweetbot is a ground-up re-design and re-thinking of what is one of the most popular Twitter clients out there.
This is the new Tweetbot, for iOS 7. As you can see the design is very new. It’s a starting over, not only for the app itself, but for the Tapbots’ brand.
For this new app, Mark and Paul had to out-Tweetbot Tweetbot. And I think they did just that.
This new version has all the underpinnings of what has made the app great since its 1.0 release in April 2011. It has fast and smooth scrolling, it has clever animations all throughout, swipe or tap-and-hold to act on a tweet, etc.
But, be it familiar, it is still an all new app.
Save for the icons, the new Tweetbot is a radical departure from the look Tapbots has become world famous for. The main timeline view now sports circle avatars and a white, gradient-free background. Tapping on images blurs brings them up full-screen while the background goes blurry. This app has all the design elements of a native iOS 7 app, but with a unique twist all its own.
It’s not all just a new coat of paint. The new Tweetbot supports background updating in iOS 7, which means that when you launch it your tweets are already there waiting for you. (This feature alone is worth the price to upgrade.)
Also, Tweetbot uses dynamic text from the size you set in the iOS system settings. Personally, I find this to be unfortunate. I prefer my system text (such as for emails and Safari’s “Reader mode”) to be just one notch above the tiniest. However, I find that size of text to be too big in Tweetbot. Even at the very smallest setting for dynamic system text size, it is still too big for me in the Tweetbot timeline.
When it comes to whimsy and personality, though the heavy-handed design aesthetic is now mostly gone, there are fun animations and bounce effects to nearly every element of the app. One of my favorites is tapping the profile image up to to bring up the account switcher — the individual account pictures and names slide in from the right and bounce off the left margin.
When you launch the new Tweetbot for the first few times, there is certainly a bit of shell shock at just how different it is. But, as you use it, you realize that it’s still a Tapbots app at heart. It’s just as delightful and just as powerful as its siblings, but it marks the next generation of Tapbots apps. And I’m looking forward to what’s next.
The new Tweetbot is a paid update for all users, and is on sale right now for $2.99 in the App Store.
With some exceptions, Apple has announced just one major update to the iPhone and the iPad per year. Some say this one-per-year pace is too slow for such a competitive industry where consumers want to buy only what’s new, newer, and newest. But for anyone who is already an Apple customer, once a year can sure come around quickly.
When I’m able, and when it makes sense, I prefer to spend more on an item and get something high quality. The tools and toys I use the most should be as close to perfect as possible. I want something built with care and quality, that is enjoyable to use, and will last me a long time.
Apple, its products, its surrounding ecosystem all sit in this market.
There is an aura of craftsmanship and attention to detail that presides over most of Apple’s hardware and software. And this same care for product development attracts 3rd-party developers and engineers who have the same ideals and commitment to excellence. The Apple ecosystem is home to the best hardware and software in the world.
One of the reasons I spend my money on Apple products is because they’re innovative, cool, capable, and delightful. But also, they hold their value and their usefulness for a very long time.
What is a successful creative business? I think there are two elements: Creative freedom and financial stability.
I’m defining success as having the ability to do creative work we’re proud of and to keep doing that work.
There is no exact recipe for this stuff. It’s a little bit different for each person and changes with all sorts of factors like skills, passion, and even geographic location.
But this chart is a pretty good starting point to give a grid for what, more or less, makes up a successful creative business.
Let me explain the chart.
75-Percent of a successful creative business should be spent on the art itself — the “content”. This is the hard and frightful work of actually making stuff. If you’re not spending the majority of your time actually making something, you’re doing it wrong.
Next, the 75-percent “Content” section of the chart is divided into three equal parts: Consistency, Talent, and Obsession. A huge part of making art online and growing an audience is centered around how often you show up, how good you are at what you do, and how narrow your focus is and how “weirdly obsessed” you are about it.
The remaining 25-precent is split between “brand” and “hustle”.
By brand I mean having a professional-looking website, having a cool iPhone theme, having an awesome user-experience for your eCommerce thingamajig, etc.
By hustle I mean (a) getting out there and promoting your work to others, and (b) contributing to the conversations happening in the circles you run in.
Here are some common excuses for why people assume they will fail:
“I don’t know how to promote my own work.”
“I can’t start putting my work out there until my website’s theme is just right.”
“My skills as a writer / podcaster / photographer / illustrator are pathetic.”
Good news, if you can at least show up every day and focus on a topic your obsessive about, then you’re already half-way there.
P.S. There’s additional good news: the more often you show up and do the work then the better your skills will get. And the better you get the more people will begin to promote your work for you.
When I launched Weather Line for the first time my initial impression was that it’s not a general purpose weather app. I assumed it was more niche, with a focus on forecast data rather than current conditions.
But that’s not the case at all.
As you can see from the screenshot, the primary element of the app is its line graph (the “weather line”) which shows the temperature forecast.
When you launch Weather Line, or navigate between the Hourly, Daily, and Monthly tabs, the left-most temperature animates itself with a sort of balloon effect. This instantly grabs the attention of your focus and draws your eye to the current temperature.
So, Weather Line is, in fact, a nice general purpose weather app. And, as I’ve been using it, I have come to enjoy the quick view I get of the current conditions right now and how they will change in the next 8 hours.
However, I do have two quibbles with the app:
All the navigation is up top. To navigate between locations you swipe on the location name; to navigate between Hourly, Daily, and Monthly forecasts you tap on those respective tabs. But on an iPhone 5/5s these tap targets are just out of reach for my thumb and it makes the app a little bit difficult to fully navigate one handed.
No radar view. Though Weather Line does use the Dark Sky API to give the 60-minute precipitation forecast, it does not have an actual radar view. Ryan, the man behind the app, said the reason there’s no radar view is because he can’t find one that is beautiful enough for him.
In an email, he said to me, “Our app takes ugly boring data and uses beauty to make it easily understood, we want the radar that does the same thing.”
I appreciate Ryan’s commitment to excellence, but for me, a weather app without radar is an incomplete weather app. My two favorite weather apps — Perfect Weather and Check the Weather — both have the standard radar views and I’ve never thought them to be ugly.
So, is Weather Line the best new general purpose weather app you can buy? I don’t think so (because of its lack of radar). But it is a fantastic app nonetheless.
Weather Line is simple, delightful, and very responsive. It feels right at home on iOS 7. And the icon is fantastic — it’s one of the best weather app icons on my iPhone. Just $3 bucks in the App Store.
I’ve been writing about hardware and software for years. Some things I review because I think they’re awesome and I want to recommend them. And then some of the things I link to or review are things I find noteworthy for one reason or another.
But things change over time — things like my own workflow habits, my software preferences, and even the software itself.
This site’s design puts the most emphasis on that which has been most-recently published. But what about that review of MarsEdit I wrote back in 2008? How can you know if I am I still using that app (if you ever even read the review in the first place)?
This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. It can be easy to write a positive review of a cool new app or gadget, but how does that product hold up over time when the newness wears off and the routine of life settles back in?
There are a lot of apps that I’ve endorsed after a few weeks or months worth of usage, but am I still using them years later?
Well, over the past three days I went through every single review and recommendation I’ve written in the past 6 years in order to take inventory of which products I still use and which I don’t.
(I encourage all of us who write about, review, and recommend products to do something like this. Especially when we highly recommend something, it would be a great benefit to come back to that review in 6 months or a year and let our readers know if we are still using that product or not.)
My list below contains about 50-or-so apps and gadgets. Surprising (to me, at least) is that only 13 of them are products which I no longer use.
Which means I’m still using about 75-percent of the things I’ve reviewed and recommended over the past 6 years. So either I’m incredibly lazy, or I have excellent taste.
What Software am still using?
OmniFocus: I’ve been using the OmniFocus suite of apps (Mac, iPhone, and iPad) for over three years now. Sometimes I wonder if they are overkill for me now that I’ve somewhat settled into a grove with my work-from-home schedule. But I just can’t quit them because it’s a task management system that I trust. I know that if and when an important task becomes due, then OmniFocus will show it to me.
Simplenote: Gosh, I’ve been a hardcore Simplenote user since I first learned of it back in 2008 (thanks to John Gruber). Recently I even went looking for alternatives to Simplenote, but I just couldn’t quit it. And, I’m a big fan of the updated Simplenote app for iOS 7, and the Mac app, too, has become a daily driver for me as. In short, I put a lot of text into Simplenote and am happy to do so.
MarsEdit: This, my friends, is quality software. It’s hard to believe I’ve been using this app just about every day for 6 years.
Rdio: Access trumps ownership, or so they say. Anyway, I am an avid fan of Rdio. And I still use Airfoil to adjust the EQ of Rdio’s output and to send the audio to my nicer sound system that’s hooked up to the Apple TV if I want.
Keyboard Maestro: I haven’t written any formal reviews of Keyboard Maestro because I don’t know where I would start, and once I did start reviewing the app I don’t know how I could stop. I’ve been using Keyboard Maestro for years and it does just about everything. About a year ago, Ben and I recorded a Tips & Tricks episode of the B&B podcast (RIP) giving some use-case scenarios for Keyboard Maestro.
LaunchBar: Another critical app that I haven’t written a review about but have long been an advocate of. This is my application launcher of choice. Also, there’s a B&B podcast Tips & Tricks episode about LaunchBar in the archives as well.
Hues: When I’m designing a website, Hues is always running. Been using it for a few years now.
Coda 2 and Diet Coda: I’ve been using and loving Coda since it shipped years ago. I’m not a developer, but I do know enough HTML, CSS, and PHP to build and maintain my own WordPress websites. And when I do need to update, create, or fix something I do so in Coda 2 (or Diet Coda if my Mac’s not nearby).
Editorial: I’ve only been using it for 2 months, but it’s splendid.
Byword: On the Mac, I do almost all of my longform writing in Byword. I then keep all my “in-progress” articles in a folder in Dropbox. If/when I need to access them on the iPhone I use Byword on the iPhone (the iOS 7 update is splendid, by the way). But on the iPad I use Editorial.
Reeder: Reeder has long been the best RSS reading app on iOS.
ReadKit: This app is good enough. So far as I know this is the only Mac app that syncs with Feed Wrangler. The app has seen a lot of consistent development and improvement over the past few months, but I still consider it pretty slow at updating my feeds and it’s not extremely easy to navigate using the keyboard.
Riposte: I think Riposte is more than just the best ADN client for the iPhone — it is one of the nicest iPhone apps, period. I find it very easy to use; it’s fast, clever, well designed, and it has a slew of killer features.
Feed Wrangler: This has been my post-Google Reader sync service of choice and after several months I’m still quite content with it.
1Password: Gosh. I’ve been using 1Password for several years, and the more I use it the more I’m glad I use it. Such a well-done and valuable app.
Transmit: It’s the best FTP client for the Mac, so why wouldn’t I still be using it?
Backblaze, SuperDuper, Arq, and Dropbox: This is still my backup strategy, and I’m quite happy with it. Though (thankfully) I have yet to encounter a time where I needed disaster recovery of my data, so it’s hard to say exactly how it would all pan out were my laptop and external HDDs all destroyed or stolen.
Day One: This is certainly the best journaling app out there. I keep the iOS apps on both my iPad’s and iPhone’s Home screen and write in them often. I have the Mac version as well, but don’t use it nearly as much. Probably because journaling is something I don’t tend to do when sitting at my desk. And also, a lot of my Day One entries are photos I take with my iPhone.
Fantastical and Agenda: These are the two calendar apps I’ve written about over the years. I still use and love Fantastical on the Mac, and up until recently used Agenda on the iPhone (the latest iOS update to Agenda is quite nice).
However, there’s a new website project I’m working on that has me doing a lot of digging and testing with iOS calendar apps right now. Calendars 5 is a new entry to the iOS calendar market and it’s pretty amazing. And so, honestly, I don’t know which of these three (Agenda, Calendars 5, Fantastical) are my favorite on iOS. They’re all great in their own way — the jury is still out.
Junecloud’s Delivery Status app: still use this to track shipments. It’s great.
Droplr: I’ve been using Droplr since it was in beta back in 2010, and I still use it every single day.
Checkmark: Checkmark does location-based reminders better than iOS does, in my opinion. It’s faster at setting them up and more accurate at reminding you. Though I don’t set reminders like this very often, when I do I still use Checkmark.
Breaktime: This app is helping me live longer. It’s sitting in my menu bar right now, reminding me that in 21 minutes I need to stand up again and walk around for a bit.
Bartender: My goodness I am so thankful for this app. It cleans up your Mac’s Menu bar. Still highly recommended.
Quickshot: Still using this to take photos of receipts (for tax purposes) and then upload them to Dropbox. A Hazel rule then moves them to my receipts folder.
DropVox: This app is extremely dated, but it still works and I still use it to record Shawn Today episodes whenever I’m away from my Mac. And, so far as I know, there are no other apps which take a voice recording and pipe it to Dropbox.
Timer: The guys behind Timing were sponsors of the site a few times in the past, but I’ve also personally had this app running in the background since it came out in 2011. And even though I use it, I don’t really make use of the data it tracks — I have a hard time parsing it all myself. I’ve been considering setting up an account with Rescue Time instead, to see if the reporting there is better and more useful.
What gadgets am I still using?
Mid-2011 MacBook Air: Stilly gutsy, still glorious, still using it every single day.
Last Year’s Kindle Paperwhite: Still love it. I wouldn’t mind getting the new one, but I don’t think it’s worth paying to upgrade.
My Clicky Keyboard: After a whole lot of fiddling and typing on mechanical keyboards (both big ones and tenkeyless versions) I picked the Filco Majestouch-2 Ninja with the Cherry MX Blue switches. I’ve been typing on this keyboard for over a year now and still love it. And, as a matter of fact, I’m typing on it at this very moment. Click! Clack!
Uni-ball Signo DX 0.38mm: Still the greatest, inexpensive, fine-tip gell ink pen in the world.
Audyssey Computer speakers: Earlier this year I bought these white Audyssey Bluetooth speakers because their sibling version (which are black and non-Bluetooth) were recommended by The Wirecutter. I don’t use the Bluetooth connectivity, but I think the white is much better looking than the black and the price is actually cheaper. The Audyssey’s are bigger than they look in the pictures, and they sound absolutely fantastic. Very full, rich, and crisp. For $145, you can’t go wrong. I’m jamming out with them as I type this very sentence.
E-PL5 mirrorless camera and Panasonic 20/1.7 pancake lens: It has been almost a year since I got this camera and lens and I am still very satisfied. While I do wish it had more dials for faster manual adjustment of the aperture and other settings, I have never felt frustrated or constrained. If I were buying a mirrorless camera today, I’d probably go with the new E-P5.
Doxie Go, Hazel, and my Paperless Office: Still using this setup and workflow every single week to keep my office paperless. Of course it’s a chore, but one that’s easy enough I don’t not do it. (See also my review of the Doxie Go.)
Origami Workstation for iPad: I’ve had this thing for a few years now and still use it near daily. What I wrote in my review still stands. One thing I’m noticing is that the velcro on the tabs that holds the flaps together is starting to lose a bit of its grip strength. My guess is that in a year or less I’ll need to replace the velcro somehow.
AeroPress: You know I’m still brew coffee with it just about every single day (if I’m not brewing with a Clever or a v60).
My gray-market 27-inch IPS LCD: I bought this display last fall when my 23-inch Apple Cinema Display died. It’s great for the price, and I’ve been happily using it for over a year. But a very faint shadow has appeared across the bottom of the screen. I am crossing my fingers that Apple will update their Thunderbolt displays later this year so I can upgrade.
What I am no longer using
Here are apps and gadgets that I’ve recommended and said I liked but am no longer using today.
The Jawbone UP: I thought it was so cool at first, and I still do love the idea of it, but the bracelet never got comfortable for me. Over time I just tired of charging it and syncing it and wearing it in my sleep.
Triage: This is a very clever email app for the iPhone. But when I installed the iOS 7 beta onto my iPhone 5 earlier this summer, I wiped the phone and started fresh. Triage just never got installed again.
And, so long as we’re on the subject, no 3rd-party email client has ever stuck for me beyond the stock Apple email apps (on iOS and on OS X). I’ve tried Postbox, Sparrow, Mailbox, Triage, and probably a dozen others, but I always just come back to Apple’s email apps.
NetNewsWire 3: This was one of the best. It would still work as a standalone RSS reader, but I use Feed Wrangler to sync my feeds and the old NNW doesn’t sync with anything any longer.
Recall: Another really cool app that just never stuck for me.
Yojimbo: I raved about this app for years, and I still consider it to be one of the finest Mac apps I have ever used. But alas it didn’t scale well for my needs, and I ended up moving to a few individual applications and services.
Nexus 7 tablet: I think I’ve got it sitting in the bottom of a drawer around here somewhere.
Visual, iOS timer: I used this for a while as a way to keep my time spent on email to a minimum. But it never became habit and the app never stuck for me.
Instacast: Instacast is great, but I just don’t listen to podcasts any longer. And with a toddler, I no longer queue podcast episodes up for road trips — instead we listen to white noise or music.
Pastebot: Some apps you just slowly stop using, and Pastebot was one of those for me. It’s neat, but I no longer use it for the things I used to use it for. And with the ever-increasing number of apps and services which sync, I don’t have as much need to copy/paste things between my Mac and iPhone.
Fever: I have Fever running on a server, but never ever check it these days.
Mint: I would still be using Mint, but something in its database farted out on me a few months ago and MySQL is something I know nothing about. So I signed up for an account with GoSquared, which is nice but I don’t love it.
Things: I stopped using things because I really needed a to-do list app that synced over the air. So I switched to OmniFocus in 2010. But then, even after Things got OTA sync, I kept using OmniFocus because the iPad app and the review function are just so, so great.
The shoulder strap that came with my Olympus camera was a turd.
To connect it, you had to thread the strap’s ends through the hooks on the sides of the camera. It wasn’t meant to connect and disconnect on a regular basis.
Once attached, even at it’s longest, the strap was just long enough to hold the camera around my neck and in front of both my shoulders, helping me complete my New York tourist motif perfectly.
I considered how I expected to use my camera, and decided that I wanted a wrist strap as the main strap. I ordered a leather strap from Gordy’s and it was fantastic.
Each strap from Gordy’s is custom made with your choice of colors for the leather and twine. I ordered a dark brown leather strap with red leather twine.
The strap hooks on to the camera’s lug mount using a keychain ring. And, like the shoulder strap that came with the camera, Gordy’s straps are not meant to be connected and disconnected.
After a few more months of use, I still wasn’t completely satisfied. Most of the time I was glad to have the wrist strap attached. However, there were regular times when I wished I had a shoulder strap instead.
And, through the summer months when I was often going out to the park or the city with family and friends, I was taking my camera with me. But I wasn’t wearing a big coat with pockets that could hold the camera — I needed a shoulder strap in those situations.
Basically, I needed a shoulder strap and a wrist strap that could each be connected and disconnected easily.
I’ve been using both of the DSPTCH straps for quite a while now and they are fantastic. The build quality and materials used are just great; they are comfortable; and DSPTCH uses interchangeable connectors to attach their straps to the camera’s lug mounts. This makes it easy to connect and disconnect the shoulder strap and the wrist strap — swapping them out takes about 20 seconds, and the connection is quite strong.
The wrist strap is made of military-grade nylon cord (the same kind they use for parachutes), braided, and with a steel clip that slides on one end, tightening the strap via the weight of the camera.
The sling is adjustable up to 4 feet. I have it just the right length so I can hang the the camera over one shoulder and then around and across my body. It’s long enough that I can then lift the camera up to eye level and shoot without having to readjust the strap or bring one arm though the loop.
Getting the two straps from DSPTCH runs about $80. Not a bad deal considering their usefulness, quality, and versatility. Definitely recommended.
One of the premier benefits to using 1Password is how it empowers you to use a unique password for every single one of your website logins.
Instead of having all your passwords memorized, you just install the 1Password extension in Safari or Chrome, and then when you are logging in to a website, you simply let 1Password log in for you. With 1Password, there’s no reason not to have unique and strong passwords for your bank, your weblog’s admin panel, your Flickr account, your Twitter, Facebook, Adobe, etc.
Then, when one of the websites or services you use gets hacked, and your username and password are both compromised, it’s far less of a risk to the rest of your logins because the hacker has a password of yours that was unique only to the website they hacked. Therefore they can’t take that username and password and use it to log in to your email account, bank account, or anything else.
In 1Password 4 there is a brilliant new section called Security Audit. In the sidebar it shows you tabs for finding weak passwords, duplicate passwords, and old passwords.
Clicking on the Duplicate Passwords tab gives you a list with every single login item that has a duplicate password. If you have any items here then you can begin working your way through each account, by logging in to the site and changing your password with a new unique one and saving that into 1Password.
(Side note: in 1Password 3 you can create smart folders that search for a common term. If you’ve got a few passwords that you know you use for most of your logins, then do create some smart folders for that password and boom, you’ve got a good list of all your duplicates.)
If you’ve been using 1Password for a while then it has no doubt collected most of your login details, making it easy to identify which accounts have duplicate passwords.
If you’re new to 1Password, it won’t yet know your various website login credentials until you enter them in. I’d suggest starting with the handful of websites you visit most often, your email address(es), and your bank’s website — changing your password in each of them to be something unique and saving that login info to 1Password. Then, over time, as you log in to the sites you visit less often, 1Password will automatically save your login credentials. And so, maybe in a month from now and then again in 6 months from now, re-check your duplicate passwords and update them.
Much as Apple is offering free versions of iWork with a new iOS device, it’s time to stop tying backups to a storage quota and simply say: “We’ve got this. Your iOS device – no matter how much you’ve got on it – will be backed up”. iCloud Backup likely started people automatically backing up their devices for the first time – a great achievement in and of itself. It’s time to make these backups invisible, “just” a part of the service and reflect Apple’s multi-device ecosystem.
Agreed. Instead of free downloads to the iOS iWork apps, I’d much rather get a free boost in iCloud storage when I buy a new iOS device. Or at least a free boost for 24 months (the “average” upgrade cycle for iPhone owners).
Apple sells 64GB iPhones and 128GB iPads. If you own one or both of these, and fill them up with photos and documents, you literally cannot buy enough storage to back up even one of them in full — iCloud’s largest tier of storage maxes out at 50GB.
Automatic nightly backups of our iOS devices is one of iCloud’s greatest features. And restoring from an iCloud backup is a piece of cake (albeit, a piece of cake that takes a few hours to eat).
One of the awesome things about buying a new device is how you can just log in with your iCloud ID and watch your new device restore itself to the same state as your previous one. All your apps download and then place themselves in the same spots you left them with their data all there; your photos, music, movies, background wallpapers, all just set themselves back in place.
iCloud restores just work. But only if you’ve got a recent iCloud backup.
The free 5GB of storage that everyone gets has become too small many, especially those of us who own more than one iOS device. Apple’s best customers — those who own multiple iOS devices, who use iCloud email, take lots of photos, and buy and use apps that use iCloud storage and sync — are the ones being boxed in, and even penalized, by iCloud’s storage limits.
Many iOS users will elect to cease backing up their devices rather than pay $40/year to upgrade to the next plan. And of those who do pay to upgrade, some can’t buy a big enough plan even if they want to.
iCloud is one of the paramount services to a great iOS experience, allowing us to keep apps and photos in sync, perform automatic backups, easily set up our new devices, and more. Yet all “magic” of iCloud is at risk from something as silly as a measly storage limit.
On Friday, May 4, 2012, I signed up for Pinboard, a website that lets you bookmark URLs.
My move to Pinboard was prompted when Yojimbo, unfortunately, got too big for its britches. In Yojimbo I had more than 600 bookmarks, plus hundreds of other notes and files and things. Alas, because Yojimbo doesn’t weigh its search results by relevancy, it became increasingly difficult to find what I was looking for. In short, the more I was adding to Yojimbo, the harder it became to find what I was looking for.
A good filing system is one where you can find whatever you’re looking for in less than a minute. As of this sentence I have 2,334 bookmarks — I use Pinboard to collect any and every URL that is or was interesting to me — and I’ve never had trouble finding what I’m looking for when I go to search for a particular bookmark.
I wanted to share a few of the tools and services I am using with Pinboard. If you are wanting to get more out of Pinboard, then hopefully this will help you out.
Pinboard is a great bookmarking service because it lives on the web, and so many of the apps and services I use every day can send bookmarks to my Pinboard.
For example: any article I “like” in Instapaper gets bookmarked to Pinboard; if a tweet that I “fave” has a URL in it, that URL gets bookmarked to Pinboard (you can configure this yourself in your Pinboard settings). And because Pinboard connects with IFTTT, you can set up a gazillion other ways to bookmark URLs.
In a nut, it’s very easy to add bookmarks into Pinboard. And it’s equally easy to find those URLs later by searching or by tag lists.
A Smarter bookmarklet
Beyond going to the Pinboard website itself and clicking the “Add URL” button, the most basic way to save a URL to Pinboard is through a bookmarklet.
I use Joel Carranza’s “Particular Pinboard” bookmarklet to save links when I am on a web page in Safari.
Joel’s bookmarklet is a bit more clever than the default ones found on the Pinboard website. It does some cleanup to the tile of the web page, populates the description field with selected text or else with the page’s description from the header, and will auto-add tags you use if they are relevant to the article based on keywords.
A Tag-Specific Quick Bookmark
Let’s say there is a tag you use often in Pinboard, and you want a way to save a URL using that tag with the least amount of fuss possible.
This will take your current Safari tab and save it to Pinboard using a pre-defined tag that you chose, all without showing you a pop-up dialog window or anything.
You know when you’re doing research on something and you end up with about 30 open tabs and then you don’t know what to do with them all?
Pinboard Tab collections are your friend.
This Safari extension will grab all of your open Safari tabs, organize them by windows (say you’ve got 3 windows with several tabs each) and then let you save them as a set.
Sometimes it’s nice to use this as nothing more than a placebo bookmark, when all you want to do is quit out of Safari and save your work for later (maybe).
There are some Mac menubar and desktop apps, but I don’t use any of them. I think the Pinboard website is very easy to use and so Safari is my go-to place for accessing Pinboard from my Mac.
Search via LaunchBar
If you use LaunchBar you can set up a custom Search Template for Pinboard that lets you enter your search query from within LaunchBar and then search the Pinboard site.
Bring up LaunchBar, click the “gear” icon that’s on the right-hand side, then go to Index → Show Index. Or hit OPT+CMD+I when LaunchBar is visible.
When the LaunchBar Index is up, click on the Search Templates label in the sidebar. Click “Add”. Name your Search Template something like “Pinboard”, and then place this code as the Details:
Now, bring up LaunchBar, type "Pinboard", hit Space Bar, type your search query, and hit Return.
I actually have two favorite iOS apps for Pinboard.
Pushpin: It has a clean interface, it's a universal app which works on iPhone and iPad, it lets me browse through my list of bookmarks, tags, and notes, and it offers access to Pinboard's Popular list and more.
Pinbook: This app has a more narrow focus than Pushpin does — Pinbook excels at search. Searching your bookmarks in Pinbook is fast, and you can search by Title, Tag, or Description. So if there is a particular tag you want to pull up, just search by tag.
I realize it's a bit nerdy to have two Pinboard apps. If I had to pick just one, it would be Pushpin. If you don't want to spend $10 on a Pinboard app, and you just want a nice way to add and find your bookmarks from your iPhone and iPad, get Pinbook. You won't be disappointed with either.
Pinboard is like Birdhouse was — there are many like it, but each person's is their own.
To get the most out of Pinboard it helps to have easy ways to save bookmarks, and then to know that you can search them when you need. Hopefully what I've shared above gives you some ideas for how you can use the service better.
So, here’s a bit of follow up to answer some of the common questions.
Why do you only have three icons in your Dock?
A 3-icon dock and an empty bottom row is how I’ve rolled for a very long time. It makes for a more “open” home screen, and I like it.
Wait, what’s with that Tweetbot icon?
What Weather app is that?
Why do you have the Clock and Camera apps on your first Home screen if your article was all about how those apps are now just one-swipe away thanks to Control Center?
Because old habits die hard. I had the clock and camera apps on my home screen when I updated to iOS 7 and never thought to move them off.
I’ve since swapped the clock app with Day One (which was on my 2nd Home screen). But I’m keeping the Camera app there because, if anything, it’s the best looking app icon that ships in iOS 7.
Unlock your iPhone, click the Home button, and what do you see? The Home screen.
My current iPhone Home screen looks like this:
It’s a grid of app icons. Tap one and you’ll launch that app.
Aside from the new aesthetics of iOS 7 and the slow-churn change of various apps that come and go in this space over time, my iPhone’s home screen looks and functions the same as it did in 2007 on the original iPhone OS. And so has yours.
However, I think the Home screen in iOS 7 got a significant improvement right under our noses.
Apple implemented some fantastic updates to the Home screen, and did so without making any obvious changes to the way things have looked and functioned since day one. It’s a vast improvement that didn’t require us having to learn anything new or re-orient ourselves to the way we’ve been using our iOS devices for the past 6 years.
Here’s what we can do from the iOS 7 Home screen that we couldn’t do before:
We now have one-swipe access to turn on or off our iPhone’s Wi-fi and Bluetooth, enable/disable Airplane mode and Do Not Disturb mode, and lock/unlock the screen orientation.
We have one-swipe access to adjust the brightness of the screen.
We are one swipe away from being able to launch the Clock app, the Calculator, the Camera, and turning our iPhone’s flash into a Flashlight.
We have one-swipe access to the currently playing audio, and the ability to adjust the volume, pause/play the audio, and skip to the next or previous track.
We are one swipe away from being able to search our entire phone’s catalog of apps, emails, contacts, notes, music, and more.
From any Home screen, we have one-swipe access to our calendar of events for today and tomorrow, as well as the current weather, anticipated drive time to our next routine destination, and a list of all recently updated apps, incoming notifications, and missed notifications.
Since these new and improved features are not tied directly to the Home screen itself, they can be accessed from anywhere on the device — inside any app, and even from the Lock screen.
If Apple had instead chosen to incorporate some of these features by doing Home screen widgets, then access to them would be restricted to only our first Home screen (or whichever screen we’d placed those widgets on).
There is still much growth and iteration that can — and I believe will — happen here. But with iOS 7, Apple has begun to let us interact with iOS in significant ways that don’t require the launching of an individual app. Certain functions of iOS are slowly expanding out of their silos.
Today my heart is full, and I’m feeling so thankful.
The past two weeks have been a sprint. My son, Giovanni Blanc, is 14 days old today, and we could not be happier to have another boy in the house.
My original intention was to take a few weeks off after Giovanni was born. But, bless his heart, he waited to be born until the day before Apple announced their new iPhones. I’ve never written so many words while changing so many diapers with so little sleep in such a short amount of time. (Achievement unlocked?)
As far as work goes, I spent a lot of time testing and reviewing several new and updated 3rd-party apps, covering iOS 7, keeping somewhat up to date with the lead up to the iPhone launch, and then standing in line for an iPhone 5s.
On the home front, the Blancs are now a 4-person family. And my wife, Anna, has quit her job and is now at home being an amazing mom to our two boys.
The work I am doing here at shawnblanc.net now completely supports our family. And the single biggest piece of that pie continues to be all the subscribing members. Thank you!
This coming spring will be the 3 year anniversary of when I began writing here full time. The past couple of weeks I’ve been reflecting much on the past few years as well as looking ahead to what’s next. And I just wanted to say thanks to the small group of you who show up every day to read this site and support the work I’m doing here. It means the world to me, and I’m working hard to make sure I’m doing my best work every day.
My day started at 6:45 this morning. With a cup of coffee in hand,1 I was about the 100th person to join the line at my local Apple store.
To make a long story short I decided to ditch my spot in line and go to the local AT&T store where I was the 20th person in line. The store opened at 8:00 and by 8:30 I was being helped by a sales rep to get a Space Gray iPhone 5s.
The look of the Space Gray is much nicer than I thought it would be. It’s not as “silver” as the band on the 4/4S was, which makes it look a bit more like the original iPhone.
I’m pretty sure this is the first year that the external appearance of the “s” model of iPhones has been so different than the previous generation. Though the iPhone 5 and 5s look nearly identical, they are less so than the 3G/3GS and 4/4S were.
Making a slo-mo video is super fun. On Twitter I joked that we’ll soon have tumblr accounts dedicated to iPhone slo-mo vids that are not as epic as their creators think they are. But who cares, right? If your iPhone can shoot 120FPS HD video and easily select scenes for slo-mo, then go for it.
Touch ID feels like equal parts the future and cheating. I have 6 years of muscle memory developed for tap-then-swipe, so I keep forgetting to tap then wait. Instead I swipe, the lock screen keypad shows up and I pause for a second, then oh yeah. Put my thumb back on the Home button and wait a second. The unlocking process truly is near instantaneous.
The way we joke that non-Retina displays are like sandpaper on our eyes, in a few months (days?) time we’ll all be joking that non-Touch ID devices are so annoying to unlock.
When I finished setting up my new phone, I thought back to something I wrote a year ago regarding the iPhone 5:
Here I have this gorgeous object of industrial innovation, and yet its proximity to my life is not due to my above average affinity for fine gadgets. No, the iPhone has earned its place by virtue of usefulness. The curiously-thin slab of glass and aluminum that I carry around in my pocket is my camera, my jukebox, my map, my newspaper, my phone, my email, my photo album, my schedule, my to-do list, my notebook, my Internet, and so much more.
A lot has changed since I wrote that a year ago, and those changes have made the statement even more true.
The iPhone 5s, with its better camera and Touch ID sensor, make it more useful (even if slightly so) to me than the iPhone 5. Moreover, with iOS 7 and so many new and updated 3rd-party apps, we are ever getting more utility, usefulness, and delight from of our iPhones.
That’s saying a lot for a tough little computer that fits in your pocket.
- I may or may not keep some to-go cups around for mornings like this. ↵
If asked to trim my iPhone and iPad Home screens down to just one app, that app would be Simplenote.
I have been using Simplenote for as long as I can remember. What first won me over to the app was certainly not the icon. Rather, it was (a) Simplenote’s ability to sync my notes over-the-air to my Mac, and (b) its use of Helvetica. These were two huge improvements on Apple’s native Notes app which synced over USB and used Marker Felt as the typeface.
Simplenote shipped in 2008 when the iPhone App Store was fresh and there was only a rumor of an iPad. In many ways, the app has barely changed since its very first version, seeing mostly only refinements and iterations of the original design.
Today, 5 years later, look at the App store today and you’ll find no shortage of minimalistic, well-designed, note-taking apps that sync over-the-air. And many of these apps are absolutely fantastic. But, even after my foray into Simplenote alternatives and doing research and trying out other note-taking apps, I’ve stuck with Simplenote as my iOS note-taking app of choice.
So much of how I use my iPhone and iPad is text based: ideas, articles, to-do items, lists, and more. Because I have an affinity for apps that do one thing well, currently all these “text-based” things are handled by unique apps:
- Editorial on the iPad and Byword on the iPhone for all my in-progress articles;
- OmniFocus for all my to-do items;
- Scratch for quick, disposable notes;
- Day One for all my journaling; and
- Simplenote for all my ideas and other miscellany.
However, I could consolidate them all into just one app if I had to. And that app would be Simplenote. The reason I’d choose Simplenote is because it’s a quick, easy-to-use app with great search and it has fast, reliable sync.
Today we find a significant update to Simplenote on iOS as well as a brand-new, native Simplenote app for the Mac.
These huge updates to Simplenote came as a bit of a surprise to me. When Simperium, the Simplenote development team, was acquired by Automattic, I was hopeful yet also had concerns that the future of Simplenote was in question. The announcement stated that Automattic founder, Matt Mullenweg, was a fan of Simplenote and had plans to keep its development, but that’s not always how things pan out after an acquisition.
Fortunately, I was wrong. And today we see one of the best updates to Simplenote yet.
Simplenote on iOS
The new iOS 7 version of Simplenote for the iPhone and iPad is even more simple (if that were possible) than its predecessor.
From a feature standpoint, what’s new about new Simplenotes is more like a list of what’s gone from the previous version.
In the previous version of Simplenote there was a modicum of preferences that allowed you to adjust a handful of options. Such as how your “timeline” list of notes was sorted, what font size you wanted for reading and editing a note’s text, and more.
However, in the new Simplenote, those options are all gone save one: the option for your list of notes to show a preview of text under each title or not.
In one of the early iOS builds I tested, the preference for condensing the note list wasn’t even there. Fortunately, the developers were willing to be persuaded to add back in this preference which I consider essential.
The option to sport a collapsed notes list is huge for how I use Simplenote. Since I usually have around 10 active notes going at any given time, I love being able to see all of them at a glance when I open Simplenote on my iPhone.
I have no doubt that other preferences will slowly be added back in. But this initial purging marks the beginning of the next generation for Simplenote.
In the iOS apps, the most significant change you’ll see right away is Simplenote’s new typeface: Source Sans Pro. Other than the many refinements to several current features (such as sharing and version history) almost all of the biggest changes are under the hood. In fact, iOS apps have been re-written from the ground up in order to lay a new foundation for future iteration and evolution.
Tom Witkin, who also went to work for Automattic a few months back and is now one of the Automattic team members working on Simplenote, said to me that their general thinking throughout the entire Simplenote design process has been “to create a great platform to build Simplenote upon going forward.”
For an app with simple in the name, I’m delighted to see that it’s staying true to its nature. While I do miss a few of my legacy features, after a few weeks with the betas, I would not go back to the old version. The app feels faster, more professional, more modern, and more refined. Everything the new Simplenote does, it does very well.
Search itself remains as great as ever. Simplenote’s search has always been second to none, and it continues to be one of the app’s finest features. I use it often, and it’s one of the primary reasons I chose to stay with Simplenote when looking into alternatives (as mentioned above). I can’t say how glad I am that search in Simplenote continues to be a top-priority for the developers.
In the new Simplenote, search has seen some nice design improvements that makes it a more polished and refined experience. When searching a term, the list of notes is pared down in real time to only those with that term in the title or the body text. If the term exists in the title, that word gets set in blue text. Tapping on a note from the search results takes you to the first result of that term within the note’s body text, and that term is highlighted in a blue rounded rectangle. Arrow buttons at the bottom-right in the note’s toolbar take you to the next and previous instances of the term, and next to those arrows you’re told how many total instances of the search term there are in the current note.
If you’re familiar with search in Simplenote, the overall experience is more or less the same. What’s new is primarily the above mentioned design details (the blue treatment on the words and the better highlighting within a note). But these are details that make the searching experience easier and more efficient.
What used to be called Sharing is now called Collaboration. This works on the Mac and iOS versions of Simplenote.
You collaborate a note with someone by adding their email address as a tag to your note. If you add the email address associated with that person’s Simplenote account then the shared note shows up in your collaborator’s Simplenote list. If you add an email address that’s not associated with a Simplenote account, then that person will get an email and can either (a) log in to Simplenote if they have their Simplenote account associated with a different email, and the note will be added; or else (b) create an account.
In the new Simplenote app, there is no longer an icon letting you know which notes in your list you’re collaborating on. Which means if someone shares a note with me, then the only way I know it’s been shared is because I notice there’s a new note there that didn’t exist before.
Moreover, if someone shares a note with you, the only way to know who has shared it is by the email alert. For an incoming shared note, there are no tags with the originator’s email addresses, nor does their email appear in the “Collaborators” list.
I’d love to see the collaboration area improve even more, by (a) offering better information about who is collaborating on a note regardless of the originator, (b) giving me the option to accept or decline incoming shared notes; and (c) some sort of marker letting me know a note in the list is shared.
Also, I see some options for pro features here, such as a list of trusted collaborators whose notes automatically get added to my list (first assuming Simplenote added the ability to accept/decline incoming shared notes), push notification options for new shared notes and when updates to a note are synced, and better visibility into the changes of a note when peering back at the note’s history. Also it’d be nice to add more email address to my Simplenote account (similar to how you can have several iMessage IDs).
Additional Tidbits Regarding New / Updated Features
As mentioned above, the default typeface is no longer Helvetica. Simplenote now uses Source Sans Pro for the note list and note body text. Though, as you can clearly see in the above screenshot, the settings pane still uses Helvetica.
Simplenote on iOS now auto-completes unordered bullet lists when you start a list and continue it by tapping the return button.
Publishing your note to a URL (so you can make that note’s contents public to anyone you like) has a much nicer in-app interface, and an updated look to the Simplenote website is in the works as well.
When typing in a note on the iPhone version, the top navigation bar “minimizes” (a la Safari) when scrolling down in your note, and in landscape orientation, the nav bar disappears altogether when you scroll down. A nice touch.
The Pro subscription has been temporarily removed. For now, all Pro users will keep on getting their benefits (no API sync limit, Dropbox syncing, etc.) while the Simplenote guys figure out what to do next with the Pro subscription model.
Gesture navigations: On the iPhone you can swipe left-to-right on a note to return to the note list. On the iPad, you can “pinch” the note closed.
On the iPad there is no longer the 2-column view that sports the list of notes on the left and the text on the right. There is only one view at a time: your list of notes or else the note you’re viewing/editing. I prefer this “simplified” viewport setup because it often saves me an extra tap, since I usually prefer to view my notes in the iPad in fullscreen mode anyway. Now, they always are.
Simplenote on Mac
For the past several weeks that I’ve been testing the new Simplenote apps, I’ve eschewed my regular use of nvALT to give my full attention to the Simplenote Mac app.
Some things I like about it are its clean and classy design that feels very open and yet not wasteful. Also it features full integration with all the Simplenote features (obviously).
However, there is no autocompletion of any syntax such as unordered lists, there is very little keyboard navigation — CMD+F for search and CMD+N for a new note. Though I’m told that the basic syntax completion is planned for a future release.
Since nvALT now uses the new Simplenote API (the same API that the native Simplenote Mac app uses), as someone who’s grown used to the keyboard-friendly features of nvALT I see no advantage of switching to the Simplenote Mac app unless you make heavy use of tags, collaboration, or you prefer the design.
The new Simplenote apps are free. The Mac app is available only in the Mac App Store, and the iOS apps are, obviously, only available in the iOS App Store.
While there are a lot of things I use my iPhone for — email, text messaging, Twitter, Instapaper, RSS, taking photos and videos, journaling, to-do list managing, music listening, and more — the one thing I would likely miss the most is the ability to take notes, make lists, write ideas, and have those all in sync with my Mac and iPad. Which is why Simplenote continues to be one of my favorite and most-used apps.
Your iPhone and iPad have never looked so fresh and different. The new look and feel of iOS 7 is the most significant design change since the toggle buttons went from rounded rectangles to circles.
With so much new, I wanted to focus on a handful of the smaller, delightful details.
The Lock Screen
From a purely aesthetic standpoint, I find the design of the Lock screen to be wonderful. I love the open, airy feel and how you can swipe from anywhere on the Lock screen to unlock your iPhone.
If you use a passcode lock, the Pin Pad slides over from the left side of the display. It’s a nice touch, and I bring it up because for future 5s owners, this is something you won’t be seeing very often come Friday.
And one more cool little detail of the Lock screen is that if you’ve snoozed an alarm or set a timer, the Lock screen shows the time remaining.
Launching / Exiting Apps
When you open an app, it expands from the app icon’s location on the Home screen to fill the display. When you exit an app, it minimizes back into the icon.
The Clock App’s Icon
If you look at the icon for the Clock app, you’ll notice that not only does it now show the correct time, even the second hand moves just like an analog clock.
The Music App
When you are looking at an album or playlist list and the currently playing song is in view, an “EQ” graphic is animated to the left of the song that’s now playing.
Your entire iTunes music collection (of songs you’ve purchased from the iTunes music store) is now listed in the Music app. And you can now stream and download any song in your iTunes library even if it’s not downloaded to your iPhone.
Turning your iPhone into Landscape mode to see the new Cover Flow design shows a thumbnail grid of album covers.
If ever there was a case where you shouldn’t judge an app by its icon, this is it. Safari in iOS 7 has the worst of the new icons, yet it is my favorite new app. In it are a slew of changes and improvements to the graphics, design, and functionality.
Reader mode: The look of Safari’s Reader mode is much improved compared to iOS 6. It’s cleaner and ties in with the overall Helvetica-gushing design aesthetic of iOS 7.
Tap the three-line “paragraph” icon that’s in the left of the Address bar and a sheet slides down over the website you’re on presenting you with a reader friendly text-view.
If you see no icon, then Safari doesn’t know how to parse the text, or it doesn’t think there’s text worth parsing.
Minimizing Chrome: When you scroll down on a web page you’ll see how Safari’s chrome minimizes: the address bar gets smaller and the icon tool bar on the bottom disappears altogether.
And when viewing a webpage in landscape orientation, Safari will go into full-screen mode with all the chrome disappearing — even the status bar — in order to allow as much vertical space as possible.
Tapping the bottom of the screen will bring up the bottom tool bar.
There are many, many more design changes and improvements to Mobile Safari. Overall, the updates to this app are just fantastic. Well done, Mobile Safari team.
You’ll notice this right away the first time you scroll an iMessage / SMS conversation: the chat bubbles are slightly springy and bouncy, moving as you scroll the conversation.
I love the use of the circle picture avatars in group message threads. And if no picture is attached to a contact, then the iPhone uses their initials as their “avatar” instead.
And, something else you may not know but which is very awesome: swipe from right to left in a Messages conversation to view the individual timestamps of each sent and received message.
This isn’t a “small” detail by any means — it’s one of the headlining features in iOS 7. But it’s one of my favorite additions to iOS. I love having the quick access to toggle certain settings (such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and more), and it’s very helpful to be able to launch certain apps from anywhere in the phone, even the Lock screen.
For example, when I’m brewing my morning cup of AeroPress’d coffee, I can get to the stopwatch with just a swipe up from the Home screen and then a tap to the Clock app.
Also, if you look closely, the on/off button on the flashlight icon toggles up and down as you toggle the actual switch in Control Center.
The Today view learns about your commuting habits and gives you information about how far away you are from your next destination. Also, it shows the natural language summary of your day today and tomorrow with weather, appointments, etc.
Checking the Today summary of my day has become part of my morning routine. Notification Center can be called from the Lock screen, so I simply tap the Home button, then swipe down from the top of the screen to see a brief overview of what the weather is going to be and what (if any) appointments I have today.
Scanning in an iTunes gift card
Launch the App Store app, scroll to the bottom of the Featured page, then tap on “Redeem.” Then…
Delight is in the Details
I’ve been running iOS 7 on my iPhone since the day it was first announced. It is a stark contrast to what we’ve been so familiar with on the iPhone and iPad, but it quickly grows on you. And all of these little details that are sprinkled throughout iOS 7 — some obvious, some not so obvious — just go to show that even when doing a major overhaul of their most popular operating system, Apple still takes time to sweat the details and add in those little design decisions which surprise and delight.
Today, the OmniFocus app for iPhone gets a huge redesign for iOS 7.
The redesign is two-fold. For one, it’s a complete re-skinning of the app’s look and feel, with a swing of the pendulum deep into iOS 7 territory. Colors and thin weights of Helvetica abound in the new OmniFocus.
The second element of the redesign is the layout and overall UI — it too gets a massive overhaul. The app’s “home” page has been completely re-organized. Gone is the standard list view, and in its stead is a more grid-based layout.
I have been using this new OmniFocus for about a week and it’s a mixed bag for me. While there are many great things about it, a few things just don’t sit right. I am a fan of the updated layout and much of the new design aesthetic. And I love that the new look fits right in with iOS 7. But, again, there are a few bits and pieces of the design that cause me to pause when using the app.
Though OmniFocus sits on my iPhone’s first Home screen, it’s not an app I spend a lot of time in. I mostly open it when I’m out and about to either quickly add an item or to check items off from a list.
When it comes to checking items off, you could say the new app is a bit more friendly to right-handed use. The task checkoff boxes (which are now circles) are on the right side of the screen instead of the left, making it a bit easier to reach those tap targets.
The project and context list view has been slightly updated. Now when viewing your list of Projects or Context, under the title of each project/context sits a row of dots signifying the number of tasks still remaining and if any of them are overdue or due soon.
Like before, a quick entry button for adding a new task from anywhere is always available in the bottom right. Unlike before, the quick entry button is now the only thing at the bottom of the screen. The bottom toolbar is now gone, and so the quick entry button simply hovers.
Adding a New Task
For the most part, the item detail view really just doesn’t sit right for me. The previous version, though outdated in style, had a clear visual hierarchy and clarity to it. The new version feels lost in the monotones and subtle tones.
The design element I like the least is the date and time picker for setting when a task is due and when the task is available. Now, to be fair, OmniFocus is using the iOS 7 default date/time picker. And, unfortunately, I think the default date/time picker is one of the turds of iOS 7.
In the previous OmniFocus for iPhone, when you selected the start/due date(s), a whole new screen would slide up. In the new version, when you tap the “Due” column, the date picker slides into view along with a grid of buttons for quickly going to a predefined timeframe (such as setting the item as being due today, 1 day from now, 1 week, 1 month, or 1 year).
An item’s start date is now called “Defer Until.” Tapping the Defer column gives the same animation as setting the Due date. One cool thing about setting the defer date is there is a button for “Later” and it selects a random time in the future, usually 6-8 weeks out.
While I do think the new layout and experience design is superior to the old version, I miss the easily defined hierarchy. I don’t know the answer here, but I do know that the Omni Group will be working to refine their app. And perhaps I’ll get used to it.
Something new and clever is that when adding a task there is a “Save+” button. Tap that after you’ve entered in a new to-do item and the current view sort of falls down off the screen and a new “card” is then ready to go for a new item. If you have several tasks to enter at once, this is a great time saver.
The iOS 7 Transition
As I stated above, OmniFocus 2 has a lot of great new design and layout elements with a few things that still need work.
The transition to the new iOS 7-esque look and feel won’t be an easy one. For a while, we’re going to see a lot of apps that look and feel very similar to one another. With iOS 7 Apple completely re-wrote the app design language. It is going to take some time for 3rd-party devs begin to get more ideas and more comfort to take risks, try new designs, and innovate in this new space.
By this time next year, if not sooner, I expect that we’ll be seeing a much broader range of mature designs from 3rd-party developers (and from Apple themselves). App designs that feel at home on iOS 7 while also feeling unique, distinct, and full of personality.
Reeder 2. It’s here, it’s a universal app, it costs $5, and it’s darn awesome.
Like many of you, I’ve been using Reeder for quite a while. It was over 3 years ago that I quibbled about the iPhone’s lack of a world class feed reader:
Tweetie and Instapaper are two classy apps. They are easy to read from, easy to get around in, and a ton of fun. But tweeting and reading things later should not be the only place where all the action is. I would love to see a top-notch, Tweetie-level, RSS reader for the iPhone. [...]
There are tons of nerds who were using Twitter way before Ashton was and who have been riding the RSS train for years and years. And since nerds are the pickiest of all when it comes to usability and interface design, they are the ones most in need of a great feed reader app for their iPhone.
I wrote the above back when the 3GS was the latest iPhone and the iPad was brand new. Of the RSS apps available at that time my favorite was Reeder. Soon after I wrote that article, a significant update to Reeder shipped which improved upon nearly every little thing in the app. Then, Reeder for iPhone got another significant update a year and a half ago during WWDC 2012.
Today’s new version of Reeder continues its journey of getting better and more refined while staying clever and familiar. Moreover, today brings a huge update to Reeder for iPad — an update we’ve been holding our breath for ever since the iPhone app’s 2012 update.
For the past several weeks I’ve been using the new versions of Reeder on my iPhone and iPad and I’ve found them to be wonderful.
There are many parallels when you consider the journeys of visual design between Reeder and OS X. The very first version of Reeder featured a bit more visual fluttery stuff than necessary. But each subsequent version has seen a bit of refinement until now we have a very clean design. And, like OS X, one thing Reeder has not traded in is its personality and whimsy.
No other feed reading app on my iPhone or iPad has the level of speed, polish, and visual delight that Reeder does.
Reeder continues to works with many of the numerous RSS syncing services, including my personal favorite, Feed Wrangler. And what’s great is that this new version of Reeder has added support for Feed Wrangler’s Smart Streams. Yay! (Though I do wish Reeder would list Smart Streams at the top of my feed list instead of the bottom.)
You can download the universal app now for just 5 bucks on the App Store.
My just-born son must be an Apple fan.
Giovanni’s due date was August 31. We thought surely he would be born before the Bronco’s played in the NFL season kickoff game last Thursday, but nope. Instead of sports, he chose to show up this past Monday, the day before Apple’s special event.
Yesterday, a few hours before we came home, I was sitting on the uncomfortable green couch in the corner of our hospital room. Giovanni laid swaddled and asleep next to me. My wife was ordering our lunch from the hospital cafeteria. And with my iPad propped up on the arm of the couch, I was following along with the news from Cupertino.
As someone who’s kept his iPhone within arm’s reach ever since 2007, and who uses this device about 2 times less than the legal daily limit, the iPhone event is one I look forward to with much anticipation.
One glance at my current iPhone Home screen and you can see how much I use my iPhone for both work and play. Updates to the iPhone and iOS are more than just cool and fun (though they are that). They’re updates to a device I use all the time for all manners of tasks. In a way, the better the iPhone gets, the better my own day-to-day life gets.
Below are a few of my thoughts about the two new iPhones Apple introduced yesterday.
The iPhone 5c
With the 5c Apple has replied to the advice of those who say they needed a cheap phone in order to compete at the bottom of the market. And Apple’s answer is, No thanks.
As pretty much everyone is pointing out, the 5c is more or less the iPhone 5 but in a new and different shell.
Yet the 5c is a significant departure from the standard lineup of iPhones we’ve seen for years. It’s the first new iPhone (other than the 3G) that’s not more expensive looking than its predecessor.
Color options in the iPhone are not a new thing. For years you’ve been able to chose any color iPhone you wanted so long as it was black or white. Well, now you can get it in white, blue, pink, green, or yellow. And for $100 more black, white, or gold aluminum.
The 5c is also a brilliant and clever way of making last year’s model new again.
People who want to spend $99 on a new iPhone don’t have to “settle” with the left overs — they can get the “new” iPhone 5c. And that’s the whole point. Go to apple.com right now and what’s the first iPhone you see? The 5c. Apple is going to sell a lot of these.
Though I won’t be getting the 5c, I love that Apple has made it.
The new colorful lineup speaks of one of the things I most love about Apple products: whimsy.
Especially as it relates to software, Apple’s products are extremely high quality, contain delightful design details, and all wrapped in whimsy. The iPhone 5c is the most whimsical iPhone yet, and without sacrificing quality or detail.
Whimsy is important because when something is fun, it’s more approachable. For those who’ve felt the iPhone was previously too fancy or too fragile for them, this less expensive, colorful plastic version may be just the ticket.
The iPhone 5s
As for the 5s, three of the new features I am genuinely excited about are Touch ID, the improved camera, and the M7 coprocessor. These aren’t just cool new gadgets on a feature checklist, they’re actual enhancements to the iPhone that I suspect will greatly improve the way I use it every single day.
Look no further than your iPhone’s lock screen to see just how seriously Apple takes the iPhone’s camera. It’s the only icon on there and the only app with a one-gesture shortcut.
In my time using iOS 7 over the past few months, one of my favorites of the new stock apps has become the Camera app (more on that next week). I now mostly take shots in the default Camera app first, and then open those shots in Instagram or VSCO Cam to edit and share them.
As someone who is getting more in more into photography (and as someone with two kids), I love that Apple is so aggressive in advancing the iPhone’s camera and corresponding software. I use the crap out of my iPhone’s camera; as an amateur photography enthusiast, the significant updates to the photographic hardware in the new iPhone is great news.
Alas, Apple still has issues with off-device photo storage, syncing, etc. It’d be great if Apple took that same energy for innovation they are putting on the iPhone’s camera (hardware and software side) and devote it to vastly improving photo storage and organization with iCloud and multiple devices.
Being able to unlock our iPhones, purchase apps and music, and more with just a quick scan of our thumbprint is going to alleviate a huge friction point.
Touch ID strikes me as being of the same class of upgrade as the Retina display. It’s a hardware advancement that vastly improves the experience we have with our iPhones every single time we use them. And while it’s something we could do without, once having experienced it for a day or two, we’ll never want to go back.
I am quite excited about the new M7 Coprocessor and what it enables because: (a) I had an UP, but it didn’t work out too well for me in the long run; and (b) I used the app, Moves, for a while but it destroyed my battery life.
I loved the personal data and tracking that the UP and Moves enabled, but one ended up being too full of friction, while the other practically required my iPhone to be plugged in as often as possible.
The M7 coprocessor in the new iPhone 5s is a sidekick (as Apple describes it) to the A7 chip. Basically, the M7 is dedicated to tracking motion data and then reporting that data to any apps that want it. And by doing this, one big advantage is that your iPhone’s battery is spared.
In essence, the M7 would let me use Moves again. And hopefully it will spur on the development of even more awesome personal-data-tracking type apps.
Next Year’s iPhones?
Perhaps I’m getting ahead of things, but there are two questions I have about next year:
What will the new lineup be called? The iPhone 6c and 6s? Or just the iPhone and the iPhone c?
How many of the iPhone 5s’s (ugh) new features will trickle down to next year’s “c” model? All of them? Some of them? Should people who bought an iPhone last year and who are waiting to upgrade until next year expect a 5s-sibling version of the “6c”?
I have always sold my previous iPhones on Craigslist for a few bucks more than what it cost me to upgrade to that year’s newer model.
Here’s what I do:
- Buy a new iPhone on Launch Day and set it up as my new primary device.
- Geek out for a day or two over the new hotness.
- Call AT&T and have them “factory unlock” my previous iPhone. Since buying a new device removes the previous one from contract they are happy to do a factory unlock of the old iPhone.
- I then remove the SIM card, erase and reset the iPhone’s data, clean the screen real well with a microfiber cloth, take some cool and professional-looking pictures that have super-shallow depth of field, and then package it up in its original box.
- Post it on Craigslist.
It’s likely that I’ll get about $500 for my iPhone 5 if I sell it on Craigslist or eBay. What helps is that, like all my previous iPhones, my iPhone 5 is in near-perfect condition.
In fact, nearly all of my gadgets are in quite good condition after years of use. I am very attentive and careful with my devices — the phone always goes in my left pocket with the screen facing in. I never put anything else in the same pocket as my phone, I never set my phone on a scratchy surface, and I rarely drop them.
I suppose there’s an element of luck that I’ve never had a catastrophic accident that ruined or busted my phone. But for 6 years running, I’ve always had a device that’s in near perfect condition after a year of regular use.
Additionally, I like to include the new Ear Pods and USB charging cable that came with my new device. Putting those in with the old iPhone is a little thing that increases the perceived value and will help me when selling it amongst the thousands of other iPhones that are listed. And since I take good care of my gear, my old Ear Pods and charging cable are still in excellent shape.
However, some folks don’t like the hassle, the scams, or the scary factor of using Craigslist. If that’s you, I’d go with Gazelle. They are easy to deal with, their prices are reasonable and competitive, and they pay directly to you.
When I was using Google to sync my RSS subscription list, my setup was NetNewsWire on my Mac and Reeder on my iPhone and iPad. As Google Reader was shutting down, I ported my subscription list to Feed Wrangler, Feedbin, and Digg. A little time with each and Feed Wrangler was the one I landed on. Two months later and I’m still using it.
The backbone for my RSS subscriptions is my favorite of the whole bundle. I’ve been more than content with the service, and my original stance on Feed Wrangler still stands: it is the most “future-Shawn proof” of the feed reading syncing services out there.
Because of Feed Wranglers use of Smart Streams and filters, it’s the one that I expect to best accommodate my changing habits and interests over the years. The feeds I read today aren’t necessarily the feeds I’ll be reading tomorrow, and my interests today aren’t guaranteed to stay the same.
Feed Wrangler’s foundation is built on catering to flexibility and letting the service do as much of the heaving lifting of sorting your incoming news for you as it can.
When porting my feeds from Google over to Feed Wrangler, I didn’t keep my old folder structure. Instead I just sort of started over organically creating new folders and streams based on my needs.
I have 3 smart streams that show me all the unread items within a selection of feeds: my “Faves” stream has the handful of sites I enjoy reading every single day; my “Photo” stream has the handful of photography-based websites I follow; and my “Too much!” stream has all the high-volume tech-news sites I don’t pay attention to.
I also have some search-based smart streams. Currently one for the term “Mirrorless” and one for the term “iOS 7″.
After a few months of regular use, I’ve also come across some workflow pebbles I’d like to see improved in Feed Wrangler:
For one, I’d love to see an easier way to add a new feed and pipe it into a smart stream immediately. Currently that workflow is a bit convoluted.
I pretty much only ever add feeds using the bookmarklet. Click that link from any site with a valid RSS feed and Feed Wrangler will add it to your master list. However, once you’ve added a new feed to your Feed Wrangler, you’re then put you then left at the “add new feeds” page.
You then need to click on the smart stream you want to place your new feed into. Then click “Edit” in the upper right corner, find the new feed, and check the box to the it to the stream.
The second pebble is with marking a whole stream as read. It doesn’t actually mark all as read, but only the items currently in view. When viewing a smart stream on the Feed Wrangler website, it displays the 50 most recent unread items, and after clicking “Mark All Read” just those 50 get marked as read, but if there are more than 50 items in my smart stream then the page refreshes with the next batch.
Suppose I’ve got a smart stream with 2,000 unread items in it. To mark the whole thing as read requires 40 clicks of the “Mark All Read” button. This, however, is only a limitation of the website itself. When marking a stream as read from within one of the 3rd-party apps I use (such as Mr. Reader or ReadKit), then the whole stream is marked as read.
These pebbles, however, are just that. As a service, I continue to be impressed with Feed Wrangler’s reliability and speed. I have high hopes for what it could look like down the road.
ReadKit on Mac
ReadKit is a seriously feature-packed app. It’ll sync with Instapaper, Pocket, Readability, Pinboard, Delicious, Feedly, NewsBlur, Fever, Feed Wrangler, Feedbin, your kitchen sink, and it can manage it’s own local copy of an OPML subscription list as well.
Currently, ReadKit has the monopoly on Mac apps that sync with Feed Wrangler. I mostly check my feeds from my Mac, and prefer using a native app instead of the Feed Wrangler website. ReadKit is a nice Mac app that’s been in very active development over the past several months.
For $5 on the Mac App Store, ReadKit is one heck of a bargain. But I don’t yet love it.
My biggest quibble is that I can’t launch ReadKit without it sending my Mac’s fans into hyperdrive. Also, the app takes a fair amount of time to sync my 177 feeds (Mr. Reader on my iPad syncs in about one-third the time). And so I usually try to check my feeds as quickly as possible and then get out so I can reclaim some CPU cycles.
As I said, it’s a pretty good app, but it’s not yet amazing. I still think there is room for a few truly great desktop RSS apps that are fast, polished, feature-rich, and easy to use. An app like that takes time to build, but I believe the market will be found waiting.
Reeder on iPhone
Though this is one of my all time favorite iPhone apps, it is, ironically, the one I use the least now. Though Reeder for iPhone works with Feed Wrangler, it doesn’t support Smart Streams. Which means I only see a single list of all my individual feeds. This
Reeder also works with Feedbin, Feedly, and Fever, and it supports folders for these services.
Mr. Reader on iPad
This is the best 3rd-party Feed Wrangler app among my trio of Mac/iPhone/iPad apps. It’s fast, feature rich, and has native support for Feed Wrangler’s Smart Streams. Not only can you view the smart streams, you can add new ones and edit existing ones.
The Future of Feed Reading?
The transition away from Google Reader hasn’t been nearly as rocky as I thought it would be. As a reader I’ve experienced very little inconvenience — the biggest pain point has been learning and using new apps.
I’m hoping it doesn’t stop here though. Google’s retreat opened up the RSS syncing and news aggregation market all over again. And I hope this means we’ll see innovation and new services in this space.
There is so much great stuff being written and published every day. We’re subscribing to some of the sites and writers who are producing it, and we’re trying to read what we can, but a lot of great things to read fall through the cracks every day. And a lot of dumb stuff gets much more attention than it deserves.
When we ask our inboxes and communities what to read, usually the answer is whatever the newest or most popular item is at the moment. And how often are those the best two metrics for deciding that something is going to be interesting and worthwhile for me?
What if there was a different and deeper approach to “automated news aggregation/recommendation”?
Suppose I was willing to give a service access to a broad scope of data points related to my reading and consumption habits. Things like what articles are in my Instapaper queue, what articles I’ve “liked” in Instapaper, what URLs I’ve bookmarked in Pinboard, who I follow on Twitter and the URLs they link to, what RSS feeds I’m subscribed to, what books and gadgets I buy on Amazon, what apps I buy from Apple, what albums are in my Rdio collection, what movies I’ve liked on Netflix, etc.
This sounds like a lot, but it actually isn’t all that different from what I’m already doing. ReadKit has my login credentials for FeedWrangler (all my RSS feeds), Instapaper and Pinboard (so I can send items to there) and Twitter (so I can share articles). My Rdio listening habits are already public info for anyone who follows me there because that’s the nature of Rdio’s social network, and so the only bits left to share would be what books I buy from Amazon, what movies I like on Netflix, and what apps I’ve downloaded from the iOS and Mac App stores.
And so, could this hypothetical service take all that information, put it into a database, and then find and recommend things for me to read? I think yes. That’d be the easy part. The hard part is if the service could pick out articles for me as well as Pandora can at pick out songs, or as well as Netflix can pick out 4-star movies. Now, wouldn’t that be something?